Avoiding fatalities with the help of technology in any organisation
Some while ago in 2007 the corporate manslaughter and corporate homicide act was introduced in to law – it became law on the 6th April 2008. The scope of this act is throughout England, Wales and Northern Ireland but is a little different as it becomes ‘corporate homicide’ in Scotland. Strangely this legislation, the corporate manslaughter act is also applicable to Hong Kong territories.
But what’s it all about? and is this legislation just another statute that burdens business with more red tape? And why does it matter to your company?
The reality is, that these corporate manslaughter and corporate homicide acts are responsible for making the working environment safer. But how was that achieved? The legislation effectively creates a rather large ‘stick’ towards management right at the top of the chain and responsible people in any company; this helps to ensure that employees (or for that matter anyone involved or even visiting their business) are kept completely safe.
If someone gets killed and the death is caused by lack of duty of care by the organisation (corporation, partnership, trade unions, employers associations, police forces, and many government departments to name but a few) then the consequences could be dire. Failure to abide by Health and Safety legislation causing a death creates a ‘gross breach’ of duty depending on the circumstances.
But this article is not here to advise you about the corporate manslaughter and corporate homicide act as such, but rather to highlight the worst case scenario of failure to adhere to the legislation and some of the possible consequences of that failure.
But what can be done to make an organisations environment safer and reduce the potential of injury or death? One of the key areas that is critical is the speed of the emergency teams to attend to someone critically in danger or injured that could easily turn in to a fatality. But that’s easy to say, however in reality it can be a hard problem to solve on occasion because of a lack of knowledge of what solutions are available that could help most organisations. Communication in any emergency is also key.
While there are many communication systems out there that could be used to communicate in emergency situations, which ones to choose and implement is an important factor in ensuring that your organisation is not subject to any breach of the legislation or its consequences thereafter.
Taking a look at wireless two way radios these can offer a good solution for when someone is hurt, but if the person is a lone worker then things can get more cumbersome. Some two way radios include a facility for lone workers and if for example someone was to fall over (even being unconscious) then the two way radio has the ability to ‘warn’ other members onsite about the situation so they can offer help or investigate the problem. Some two way radios can even notify a mobile phone when there are problems by using other specialised custom equipment. With custom specialised equipment whole team could easily be notified that someone is down and then emergency teams can attend the scene.
Other alternatives often include the person ‘calling in’ every thirty minutes (variable and determined by the system) and if they don’t call in then the alarm is raised. But usually the two way radio solution often only identifies ‘the area’ where the injured person may be and in large organisations that can sometimes be an issue. Working anywhere that is underground or in confined spaces surrounded by metal makes this form of technology a poor choice.
Other solutions that are available include mobile phone based systems, while mobile based solutions are pretty good for outdoors (assuming that there is phone coverage) but often indoors, underground or in other situations then they tend to be unreliable or not operational at all. Depending on those mobile phone based solutions could be a challenge if they don’t work and someone gets killed.
Similarly, where pendant (or similar device) based on GPS, satellite based or other similar technologies are used, often there are issues when it comes down to operability in many situations (indoors, underground, and even in areas that need to be intrinsically safe such as bakery premises as an example) that need to be carefully considered where lives are concerned. No one wants a system that only works part of the time do they?
Other equipment includes onsite paging systems that have specific locations for emergency call buttons that can contact emergency staff if there is any incident. Usually these solutions are shorter range than say two way radios, but often the suppliers have the ability to extend the range much further. Using signal boost repeaters helps tremendously. One advantage is that these call buttons can be set up to message a whole team of emergency staff. When an emergency call button is pressed, all team members will be messaged. When the first team member arrives he can quickly determine the need for other staff to continue to the emergency, or he can simply ‘press a cancel button’ that will message other team members to stand down. Using emergency call buttons are often a good choice and are suitable for most sectors of business.
An incident in a well known company was recently discussed about their use of emergency call buttons and how the emergency was handled; the EHS manager at BASF commented “We had a medical emergency at the Eldon Way site (employee collapsed). A colleague witnessed the incident and immediately pressed the first aid call button which was nearby. The 2 first aiders carrying the pagers on the day were able to respond quickly and deal with the incident. It shows how valuable the system can be in an emergency!” the EHF manager continued “I was at the Harwood Road site and happened to be with one of the first aiders from that site and because of the boosters the signal was also picked up by him. This meant we were also alerted of the incident and went to Eldon Way to assist”. The power of the signal boost repeaters was clearly confirmed by the company and the incident was quickly and efficiently dealt with.
Call buttons can be ‘battery’ operated or mains operated, but in the case of battery operation when batteries run low (after many months of use) management is messaged from the unit automatically confirming exactly which unit needs replacement batteries. Battery power is a solution where there is no mains supply available onsite, but where there is appropriate mains connectivity that should be the preferred choice.
Lastly, there are huge developments in the area of beacon technology which has been growing steadily for a while. For anyone unfamiliar with beacons and that type of technology, there are a few different ways of using beacons technically, but they in general tend to work by sensing near field components which may be attached to assets (asset tracking) or even people for their exact location on or off premise (depending on the specific beacon technologies used). BLE technology has long been known for shorter range issues but with BLE 5.1 and above instead of the typical 10 metre range this newer 5.1 technology is reportedly achieving well over 200 metres. Other enhancements to those systems offer even further range for onsite lone worker (or not so lone worker) solutions that are clearly offering many advantages that other technologies simply cannot achieve. Other features dependent on the exact beacon technology being used can even show locations of people or assets on multi floor premises, so if an employee was on floor 12 of a 30 floor building for examle, that employee can be seen on a map and exactly which floor he is located on. These features are set to change the way lone worker (or even employee location in general) is set to change over the next wave of technology in this sector. And the costs are easily commensurate with low budget figures.
There are of course even more solutions out there, but some of those tend to be very expensive price prohibitive solutions whereas systems like two way radios and emergency call buttons tend to be within the reach of most companies financially and don’t really compromise on the operational features for what they are specifically used for.
Failure to ensure the safety and breach of any of the acts for each respective country can result in incredibly high fines with no limit plus costs; an example is a London company that was fined £1,200,000 fine and costs in total. The Sentencing Council has a statutory duty to prepare and provide sentencing guidelines to the courts for offenders in the UK. The sentencing can be extensive and can include periods in jail for responsible employees. The legislation in the UK that creates this liability is the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 and prosecution under this act is often prosecuted because of negligence by the responsible person to ensure that employees (for example) are kept safe at all times.
The law and the resulting penalties of those failures can be extreme and a look at Wikipedia about this subject will soon confirm that having a lackadaisical approach to health and safety or ‘doing nothing’ to alleviate problems before they result in serious injury or death is not an option. Ultimately the highest levels of management carry the responsibility of any fatality and the management could even end up in prison.
A recent incident in the headlines was the Grenfell Tower fire and it has been suggested that certain parties involved with that catastrophe may be subject to breach of the corporate manslaughter act. Only time will tell if that is the case, but it highlights the position here in England and how the legislation could have been breached and the serious consequences by large organisations.
Of course, there is no solution that guarantees complete communications in every single condition or situation that could apply where someone gets injured or killed; but careful consideration of the systems available out there will ensure that you will end up with an emergency communication solution that is right for you, even a combination of more than one type of system that can offer an overall solid communications channel might work for you. In most instances speed is of the essence and a hit or miss solutions could actually hinder assistance or in the worst situation could lead to a fatality in your organisation. No one wants that. The fact that your organisation has operational solutions onsite can only be a massive plus in ensuring that the corporate manslaughter act is not something that you will be in breach of any time soon.